I like the idea, and we have a model right here in San Diego. The Voice of San Diego is a non-profit that provides the most insightful and detailed news coverage in San Diego. The Union Tribune is a mainstay of any local news reader, but their articles, especially about policy issues, are rarely as in depth as those written by the VOSD.
I don’t want to beat up on the UT here. Their model is different. They have a different audience. They report on more news, and serve a broader audience, so their coverage is usually wider, if not as deep.
But I didn’t realize that the VOSD’s model precluded them from making endorsements of candidates or issues. From the NYT article:
One constraint on an endowed institution is the prohibition in the same [tax code] law against trying to “influence legislation” or “participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.”
I was aware that the VOSD doesn’t make endorsements. I didn’t realize it was an issue based on their tax status.
But I’m glad the VOSD doesn’t make endorsements. I don’t think we should politicize news. News should be pure, or as pure as it can be. It should be an honest and unbiased explanation of the facts, as they are.
With the political process as it is, there will never be a shortage of people trying to influence the news. There’ll be spin, and press releases, tipsters and exclusives. There are enough forces from outside of a newspaper that will attempt to shape and harness the truth that is the news.
I don’t want the news to have to deal with another force, from within newspapers themselves. I don’t want reporters or newsrooms to worry that their editors and publishers will pressure them to politicize their coverage. News shouldn’t be worried about conforming to a newspaper’s official endorsement or political views.
Endorsements are not the root of all evil in news. There are biased news outlets that don’t officially endorse candidates. And news outlets like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times provide excellent news coverage, while simultaneously publishing editorials and endorsements that are predictably biased.
But I would rather that newsrooms didn’t have any bias, or any hint of bias. I would prefer them to just report on the news. I believe bias infects everything, and that it’s not something from which people can ultimately escape. But steps can be taken to minimize bias. Reporters have a hard enough time getting the news right, discovering the truth from the spin, without also having to navigate the politics of their own newsroom.
Endorsements by newspapers are valuable to candidates, sure. But I don’t think they’re that valuable to news consumers, the readers of newspapers. From the New York Times:
While endowed newspapers would need to refrain from endorsing candidates for public office, they would still be free to participate forcefully in the debate over issues of public importance. The loss of endorsements seems minor in the context of the opinion-heavy Web.
As a reader, I would much rather newspapers reported on the campaigns of candidates, instead of waiting until the last week of the election cycle to make an endorsement. I would prefer newspapers let the reader make a judgment, instead of printing which candidates received the vote of a majority of the paper’s editorial board.
Newspaper editors may well have a certain expertise and familiarity with local issues and politics, so their opinions may be valuable information for reasoning voters. But an important purpose of a newspaper is to disseminate a newspaper’s expertise and familiarity with local issues. If a newspaper is doing its job right, then the readers should know nearly as much about local political issues as the newspaper’s editors.
Whether endowed or for-profit, I think the newspaper endorsement is problematic. I suspect they’re here to stay, and I certainly don’t want to suggest that my favorite candidates should hesitate to seek a major newspaper endorsement. But if newspapers sought to do something else with their ink, like provide more news, or even if they printed transcripts of interviews with candidates, I’d be a happier news reader.